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Representative image

Banking on a high: Cannabis for everyone? Poland thinks not quite

Since 2000, Poland’s drug laws have been some of the most restrictive in Europe. Individuals possessing marijuana — the dried bud of the hemp plant — risk arrest, prosecution, and conviction. Piotr says it is very liberating for him to now be able to buy cannabis legally.

When asked where he gets his cannabis, Piotr grins and asks if DW wants the official or the unofficial version. He says he’ll only tell the unofficial — that is the real — version, under a pseudonym. Hence, Piotr is not the man’s real name. He says he needs to be careful: “I’ve waited so long to be able to smoke legally, I don’t want to risk it.” Since 2000, Poland’s drug laws have been some of the most restrictive in Europe. Individuals possessing marijuana — the dried bud of the hemp plant — risk arrest, prosecution, and conviction. Piotr says it is very liberating for him to now be able to buy cannabis legally.

A friend referred him to one of several clinics in Poland specialized in the use of medical marijuana. Piotr described a number of purported health problems when filling out his first online form: headaches, migraines, backache, insomnia, work-related stress. Asked if he is really ill, Piotr responds with a laugh: “Sometimes I get headaches, but I don’t think they are chronic migraines.”

After filling out his form, Piotr had a video appointment with a doctor who gave him a prescription for medical marijuana and explained how the drug was to be taken: With a vaporizer, at a specific temperature — so as not to release carcinogens but only properties beneficial to patient health.

Piotr listened quietly to the doctor’s advice. Yet as soon as his prescription for 10 grams of medical marijuana was filled at the pharmacy, he was back home smoking it like he always had, as a way to relax. He admits that the cannabis from the pharmacy is “better than what I used to buy.”

The distribution and use of cannabis for medical purposes became legal in Poland in 2017. By 2021, doctors across Poland were writing roughly 3,000 marijuana prescriptions a month.

But how many monthly prescriptions go to patients who really need medical marijuana, and how many to others faking illness in order to gain access to cannabis?

“That’s hard to say,” explains Andrzej Dolecki, chairman of the Free Hemp movement, one of the oldest organizations in the fight for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in Poland. “Rules for medical cannabis are very liberal, not because politicians designed them that way but because of their amateurism.” 

In Germany, there are a number of criteria one has to meet before getting a prescription for cannabis as there are in the Czech Republic. Poland, however, has neither a catalogue of illnesses, nor limits concerning patient age, gram amounts prescribed, or relating to vehicle operation. “As a result, one could theoretically prescribe a half ton of cannabis to a child with a toothache — all legally,” according to Dolecki. Nevertheless, a quick internet search shows Polish doctors do indeed look at a number of factors such as psychological illness or age before prescribing medical marijuana.

In a 2020 poll conducted for the National Bureau for Drug Prevention, 7.8% of Poles under the age of 34 said they had consumed cannabis at least once over the past 12 months. That number could be higher considering the fact that the strict illegality of marijuana possession in Poland may make some people less likely to admit use.

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